Students at Hofstra University in Hempsted, New York, act as stand-ins for candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during stage rehearsals for the second presidential debate tomorrow. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Poll: Candidates have work to do to increase sagging Latino support

As Barack Obama and Mitt Romney spent a good part of the weekend getting ready for their second presidential debate tomorrow night in New York, a new Impremedia/Latino Decisions poll shows both candidates need to shore up Latino voter enthusiasm and support — especially after the last debate.  The poll finds President Obama’s performance in the last debate might have cost him support among Latinos — among Hispanic registered voters, support for President Obama slipped from 72 percent last week to 67 percent this week.  Governor Mitt Romney, while increasing from 20 to 23 percent among Latinos, still has very low numbers among Hispanic voters.

The poll also showed a significant decline in voter enthusiasm among registered Latino voters.  Two weeks ago, 93 percent of  Hispanic voters said they were “very enthusiastic” or “somewhat enthusiastic” about the election.  Two weeks later only 81 percent of Latinos described themselves that way.

While the President still enjoys a considerable advantage over Governor Romney and the Republicans, it is clear that he and his campaign have serious work to do to recover the heights they reached in the post-convention bounce,” said Stanford University political scientist and Latino Decisions principal Gary Segura.

“The convention and events right after had a very positive effect for President Obama, but his performance in the last debate has led to a new round of questioning by Latino voters, especially by independents,” said Impremedia CEO Monica Lozano.  The poll found 32 percent of registered Latino voters identify themselves as independent, and  among this group,  51 percent of Hispanics plan to vote for President Obama, 29 percent plan to vote Republican and 20 percent are undecided.

University of Washington political scientist and Latino Decisions principal Matt Barreto says Romney should be polling higher than 23 percent among Latinos.  “The Republican message has not been resonating with Latino voters,” says Barreto.  “Romney appears out of touch with working families, and he is not clear on his immigration issue,” says Barreto, adding that on policy matters, they have a big challenge.

Perhaps both parties should be using their Latino politicians more; the poll found Hispanic registered voters are not that familiar with Latino elected officials.  For example, Los Angeles Mayor and Chair of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) Antonio Villaraigosa is favorably seen by 39 percent of Latino voters, and 36 percent had never heard of him.  Fifty-three percent of Latino voters had not heard of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, even though he gave the Democratic National Convention keynote speech, and 50 percent of Hispanic voters had not heard of New Mexico Republican Governor Susana Martínez, though she was one of the main Hispanic speakers at the Republican National Convention.

Fifty-five percent of Hispanics said they had not heard of Democratic Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, though he has been very vocal about immigration and the Dream Act, and 38 percent of Latinos had not heard of Florida  Republican Senator Marco Rubio, though he introduced Governor Romney at the Republican National Convention.

“I would say both parties have not done a good job of integrating Latino elected officials into the national narrative,” says Latino Decisions’ Barreto.  “They only use Latinos sporadically, mainly on immigration; the parties need to do a better job of using high-profile elected Latinos regularly in the campaign, to talk about all the issues — economy, etc.” Barreto says.

And as the candidates furiously prepare for tomorrow night’s town-hall debate, the poll finds 76 percent of Latinos say a candidate’s debate performance is important in evaluating the candidate.  “For Latinos and non-Latinos, the debates are providing insights into the candidates’ positions,” says Barreto.  “Latinos will be paying attention,” he adds.

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